The Game

by Middie Rosie

Captain Lee Crane of the S.S.R.N. Seaview paused at the top of the hill, trying to assess the danger. The sudden hard November rain had flooded the streets overwhelming the drainage system, and the road ahead looked like a riverbed. He could see his goal halfway down the street and silently cursed the jeep in the driveway. There was no way he would leave his red Cobra sitting in the street. Even if it didn't get washed away by the rising waters, it was so low slung that the floorboards would be soaked through. Well, there was no help for it. Lee drove down the street and pulled in as close as possible behind the jeep. He leaned on the car horn in the somewhat wistful hope that the jeep's owner, Lt. Cmdr. Chip Morton, would come out and move it up into the garage. Like all of the houses on the street, Chip's home sat at the top of a sloping lawn, with a long upward inclining driveway that led to a garage at the back of the house.

The honking horn brought no response. Sighing, Lee jumped out of his car and ran up the driveway to the side door of the house. He tried the door, found it locked, and selected a key from his key ring. He entered the house through the kitchen calling out, "Chip?". When there was no reply, he started for the living room, but was stopped by a rolling boom of thunder. Damn. Lee hurried to a kitchen cupboard, and opening it, grabbed the spare keys to the jeep, and darted outside. Using the automatic garage door opener, he got the jeep put away, and pulled the Cobra up to high ground as close to the garage as he could.

Back in the house, he stood in the kitchen, listening for anything besides the sound of water dripping off his clothes. The silence was absolute. No shower running, no radio on. Lee looked around the kitchen noticing the bowls and platters of food all neatly covered with plastic wrap. When he spied the Mexican Five Layer Dip, he snagged an empty bowl and shoveled himself a hefty serving. Looking around, he found the tortilla chips and dumped several handfuls on top of the dip, then wandered toward the back of the house. As he suspected, the bedroom was empty, the bed tidily made. He looked at the closed door of the former walk-in linen closet in disgust.

Eating a dip laden chip, he opened the door, and found his quarry. Morton had turned the small space into an office. The walls of the room were covered in bookshelves, and a large built in desk ran the five foot length of the back wall. Chip was sitting hunched over the computer screen with his back to the door, stereo headphones covering his ears. Looking over Chip's shoulder at the computer screen, he saw the monthly NIMR budget. With a 'tsk', he leaned against the doorframe, and toggled the light switch down and up several times. Much to his satisfaction, Chip jumped a good foot, before spinning his chair around and snatching off the headphones. He had to admire the casualness with which his friend covered up his work.

"What're you doing, Chip?" Lee asked mildly.

"Hello, Lee. I wasn't doing anything much, just killing some time."

"Don't say anything more. I saw what was on the screen. I thought we agreed that you would leave the work at work this weekend. How long have you been at that?"

"Oh, not long. I just wanted to get a little ahead, that's all. How's the dip?"

"Excellent, as usual. You've got two minutes to shut down before I spill it all over your keyboard."

Lee smiled as his friend spun back to his computer, and immediately began shutting the system off. Lee stood in the doorway until Chip finally got up, and turning off the light, came out of his 'sanctum'. Chip pulled out a key and locked the door as he always did when he brought home Institute work. Lee held out his hand. "The key. Give it to me. Now."

"What? Why?"

"Well, let's just say I'm helping you keep your promise not to work this weekend."

"Lee, I never promised anything. You did all the talking."

"Fork it over, buddy."

"Lee. . . ." Lee stood patiently, with his hand held out. It didn't hurt that he had his friend trapped in a corner. Lee could see the little wheels turning in Chip's head. Or more specifically, the level of blankness on his friend's bland face changed as Chip considered possible responses. Lee waited, knowing that Chip would come to the right decision given enough time. Finally, Chip blinked and turned over the key.

Magnanimous in victory, Lee extended the bowl, "Want some dip?"

Chip rolled his eyes, and stepping past the Captain, led the way back into the kitchen. He stopped dead two steps into the room, almost causing Lee to dump the now half empty bowl of dip down his back, and exclaimed, "Hey! It's raining!"

Aha! Caught you! Lee thought. "Since about 0500. How long did you say you were working?"

Chip winced. "I dunno, didn't seem that long. Help me get the rest of the food out, will you?"

"There's more? Chip, you've already got enough food here to feed the entire boat."

Chip stared pityingly at his superior officer, friend, and sometimes partner-in-crime. "The mind is the first thing to go."

"What?"

"Lee, don't you remember last year? You put out enough food to feed the boat too, and it was all gone by half-time. You keep forgetting how much food a junior officer puts away. Especially when it's free. Remember O'Brien's ham sandwich? He piled half a pig on one roll. Now do me a favor and grab the platter on the bottom shelf of the fridge."

"This one with the foil over it? Chip, this thing weighs a ton! What is it?" Lee didn't wait for an answer, but putting the platter on a counter, pulled off the tin foil. He uncovered four large grayish-pink lumps, sprinkled with peppercorns and spices, exuding a wonderful smell. Lee calculated that there had to be six or seven pounds of Chip's famous corned beef on the platter. Staring at it, he said, "Well, here's my share. Where's the rest?"

Snorting, Chip handed Lee a large carving knife and a fork saying, "Here, make yourself useful."

Lee started cutting thick slices of the delicious meat while Chip reached into the oven and pulled out a pan with a huge turkey breast. While the turkey was cooling, Chip puttered around assembling the bread and condiments and other dishes for the party. When Lee finished cutting up the corned beef, Chip whisked away the platter, and replaced it with the turkey breast, imperiously commanding Lee to wash the knife before slicing the turkey. Both men continued to work in companionable silence. When the turkey was done, a sizable roast beef was presented for carving, and after that, a ham. By the time he was done, Lee felt his arm was ready to fall off. When he saw Chip eyeing him, he grabbed his arm in mock pain, and exclaimed, "I fears me carving days is over, Cap'n Bligh."

"Oh, okay, you can be company now. I think that's Bob pulling up now."

Lee looked out the kitchen window, and saw Bob O'Brien and Sparks Smith manhandling a keg of beer out of the trunk of Bob's car. Chip opened the side door and leaned out telling the two younger men to bring the keg into the kitchen. When it was in and sitting on the floor, he sent the two off to the garage to get a couple of large washtubs, and several bags of ice that Chip was storing in the deep freezer out there. Lee carefully inspected the tag on the keg to insure himself that Bob had gotten the good stuff and not the cheap swill that he and Sparks were used to. Satisfied, he straightened up just as Bob and Sparks returned. He helped Bob get the keg situated as Sparks went out and retrieved a couple cases of soda. By the time they were done, Doc had arrived with a huge bag of paper plates, and plastic cups and spoons, forks and knives. Within a few minutes, the entire kitchen was organized.

Looking around, Lee shook his head. "Chip, I don't know how you do it. Whenever I have a party, the place looks like a mess, and I always forget half of the things I should have. You do it, and you have everybody bringing stuff, and it lands up looking like it's been catered by the Ritz."

Doc chuckled, "I vote we have the party here every year."

Chip replied sardonically, "Of course you do, Doc. If I remember correctly, next year is your turn. C'mon guys, let's go get the living room set up."

With a chorus of groans, and rolled eyes, the officers of the Seaview followed their XO into the living room. A spacious room, it was dominated by Chip's brand new 27" color television. The younger officers in particular were impressed by the size of the screen. Televisions were getting larger and larger all the time, with a promise of 50" and even 60" in the not too distant future. Chip had two sofas ranged against adjoining walls and several comfortable stuffed chairs. Lee always marveled at his friend's insistence on a fully decorated house. Chip was rarely around to enjoy it, but his home had every creature comfort imaginable. It was more like a family home than a bachelor pad, but that was how Chip liked it.

The men set in with a will and good humor, and within a minute or so, had the room set up theater style, with clear views of the TV from every seat, and handy end tables or TV tables to hold the piles of goodies from the kitchen. As one, the five men plopped into seats, exhaling sighs and feigning exhaustion.

With a start, Lee remembered the bag in his car. Excusing himself, he went out in the rain that had turned to light sprinkles, and got the bag containing his secret pride. Returning to the house, he went directly into the bathroom and pulled the sweatshirt out of the bag. He held it up to admire it. It was a Navy sweatshirt with the newly designed logo. It had taken him weeks to have it shipped in secret. It had only come yesterday, and he was confident that he had the only one like it on the West Coast. He smiled putting it on. This would put him one up on Chip in their never remarked upon, but nevertheless unending competition. He opened the door, and casually strolled into the living room. He came to a dead stop when he saw Chip in a sweatshirt identical to his. Refusing to let his dismay show, he continued on to the couch and sat down. Just wait 'til Christmas, Buster! Lee wasn't sure what he would do, but he WOULD make Chip pay.

He turned his attention to the TV where the pre-game festivities had begun. As always, the sight of the wall of blue-clad midshipmen brought back memories of his own time at Annapolis. He could see the same nostalgia reflected on the faces of Chip, Bob and Sparks. Doc, while a twenty year Navy man himself had actually attended an ivy league school. He had been granted honorary midshipman status by Admiral Nelson himself at the first of these annual Army-Navy Game Parties several years ago.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, when the man himself appeared at the front door, burdened down with a heavy box. Sparks, being closest, jumped up to take the box from the Admiral and carry it into the kitchen. Chip hurried over to help him off with his coat. Nelson grinned at Lee's thunderstruck expression when it was revealed that he too was wearing the same Navy sweatshirt. "Something wrong, Lee?"

Realizing his mouth was hanging open, Lee shut it with a snap. "No, Sir, not a thing. I think I'll get a beer. Can I get you one?"

"No, thank you, Lee. Actually I'm a bit hungry. Chip, did you make that Mexican thing with the chips?"

"The Five Layer dip? Sure did, Sir. Come on in the kitchen, and we'll set you up."

The three officers walked to the kitchen where Sparks was setting up the Admiral's contribution, several bottles of fine liquor. Nelson surveyed the table and counters laden with food, and remarked, "I doubt even Bob O'Brien could make much of a dent in all of this. "

Chip grinned, "You just watch him, Sir! And anyway, anything leftover Lee and I will split. It'll keep us fed for a week."

Doc strolled in in time to hear this last remark. "Why does Lee get leftovers?"

"He paid for half."

"Through the nose, I might add. Don't get your hopes up, Will. The leftovers are mine, all mine."

"Okay, Lee. Personally, I intend to insure that there is no leftover corned beef."

"Corned beef? You made corned beef?" Sparks called hopefully. Doc glanced over at the young officer, saw what amounted to a full bar, shot an annoyed glance at Admiral Nelson, and grabbed a plastic bowl.

"All right, gentlemen. Car keys. I want them all."

Lee promptly pulled keys out of his pocket and dropped them in the bowl. Nelson did too, albeit a bit more reluctantly. When Doc looked at Sparks, he held up his hands, "I came with Bob."

Doc left the kitchen in search of Bob's car keys. Sparks stood looking at the corned beef with undisguised longing. Chip exchanged a glance with Lee and folding his arms across his chest said, "Sparks, if you wait for an invitation, you'll starve. Or be trampled when Bob gets hungry."

With a grin, Sparks nodded his head and grabbed a plate. Lee, grabbing his own plate said, "Don't listen to him, I get first dibs on the corned beef!"

Lee playfully shouldered the chuckling Sparks aside, and speared several prime slices. He turned at the quiet 'Ahem', at his shoulder, and found his hand empty, as Admiral Nelson gleefully exerted his top dog rights, taking the plate from him. Lee groaned in mock horror as Bob O'Brien entered the kitchen saying, "I smell corned beef."

"Back! Bob, you stay back until I get my share!"

"Well, hurry up, Sir! The game is starting." said Bob.

The men did indeed hurry, not wanting to miss the opening kickoff. Lee took his time assembling the perfect sandwich, and discovered that, except for Admiral Nelson who was scooping potato salad onto his plate, the kitchen was empty. Carrying his plate and a cup full of beer, Lee walked into the living room. Checking where everyone was seated, he determined that the best seat in the room was already occupied. By Chip Morton. Oh, no, no, Chipper. This shall not be. He casually walked over and stood between Chip and the TV, and stared. As expected, the pecking order system worked, and with a sigh, Chip got up and moved. As Lee sat, he hid his smile as Chip bumped Doc, who bumped Bob, who bumped Sparks. He took a big bite of his sandwich and looked up only to find his view of the TV blocked. By the Admiral. Staring. With a sigh identical to Chip's he got up and bumped Chip again. The other officers moved again without comment, and Lee was struck by a vision of how this would look to an outsider. He started to snicker. Chip, who Lee suspected of mind reading abilities, started to chuckle, and soon the room was alive with the laughter of men who on a far too regular basis risked their lives for one and another.

Nelson waved everyone to silence, as the teams on the screen lined up for the kickoff. In time to the middies on the screen the officers of the Seaview started a wordless yell that grew in intensity as the Army kicker ran up to the ball, kicking it high and long to the Navy five yard line where Navy's All American halfback fielded it and started a run up the field. Cries of 'Go, go, go' filled the room as the twenty year old wonder broke several tackles and galloped up the field. With twenty-five yards left between the halfback and a touchdown, an Army player appeared from the side of the screen, and tore after the Navy hero. The touchdown was suddenly in doubt, and every body yearned to the goal line hoping to impart something, anything, to get the man across. The Army pursuer was within steps of the fleeing Navy player, when there was a crash of lightening and the screen went dark.

Six men sat in heart pounding disbelief. After a moment of stunned silence, Admiral Nelson said in icy tones, "Commander, did you pay your electric bill?"

Chip, who had been staring with the same look of shock, startled, and gulping exclaimed, "Yes, Sir, of course I did. It must be a power failure."

"But. . . .the game! How are we going to watch the game?" Bob's plaintive cry was almost comical.

Lee sat reviewing and discarding options. If the power failure did not cover the entire city of Santa Barbara, perhaps they could . . . The TV suddenly sprang to life. All eyes were drawn to the screen as the excited announcer described the previous play as 'one for the record books'. The six officers stared at the screen in horror as the score was displayed before the obligatory beer commercial. Army-7, Navy-0. "What happened?" wailed Sparks. Soon, five baleful sets of eyes were pinned on the equally stunned XO.

"Chip, what did you do?"

"Yeah, Sir! What did you do?"

"Me?" squeaked Morton. "Aw, come on, fellas! It was the storm!"

The commercial ended and the game continued. After a while, the men relaxed. Bob lived up to his reputation, going to the kitchen at every break, returning with huge sandwiches, or bowls of dip or one of the many salads. Lee finally concluded that maybe, just maybe, Chip was innocent of evil doing. The Admiral had a few beers, and made himself comfortable, pulling up a hassock and putting up his feet.

Even the rain cooperated, stopping just before half-time, allowing the men to play a little three-on-three driveway basketball. Doc, quiet, gentle Doc, was a formidable player, but Lee and Chip had been friends for so long that they played instinctively knowing what the other was doing. Of course, it didn't hurt that every time they gave the ball to Admiral Nelson, Bob and Sparks both froze. Chip and Lee had only to concentrate on blocking Doc who had no compunctions about getting 'in the Admiral's face'. Now, if the Navy football team would just score, things would be just about perfect in Lee's estimation. At the beginning of the second half, Lee settled back into his chair, content with a huge plate of nachos, glowing with success at beating the junior officers at basketball.

With the score Army-20, Navy-14, the Navy kicked off. A high ball, the midshipmen raced down the field. The Army halfback caught the ball at the twenty yard line, and ran straight into a wall of blue jerseys. Before he went down, the football popped out of his hands, straight up in the air, where a Navy linebacker discovered it in his hands. The crowds on the field went no wilder than the six men watching TV as the large defender lumbered up the field. He was slow, but it took three Army tackles to bring the man down on the two yard line. Lee and Chip yelled in triumphant chorus, "I want that man on the Seaview!" And the Admiral, flushed with pleasure, yelled back, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" The teams lined up for extra point, and the TV went black.

Sparks let out a little wordless whimper. Chip stood up, swallowing hard, and mumbling something about circuit breakers, quickly left the room. Lee called after him, "Morton, if the power isn't back on in two minutes, I'm coming after you! With a stick!"

Lee slumped back in his chair and joined his brother officers in staring morosely at the blank screen of the TV. Bob heaved a sigh and went to the kitchen. Doc began to snicker, and eventually Sparks, then the Admiral and finally Lee joined in. When Bob returned with yet another plateful of food, the men went into gales of laughter. Wiping away a tear, Lee went in search of Chip, and found him in the guest bedroom closet, checking the fuses in an antiquated circuit breaker board.

"Hey, come on out of there. We took a vote, and we decided not to kill you."

"That's . . . . very gracious of you. It's not the circuit breakers. It has to be a power failure." Chip stood back from the closet, thinking. "Listen, I'm going to go next door and check on Mrs. Hadley, make sure she's okay."

Mrs. Hadley was as bad-tempered an old crone as Lee ever wanted to meet, but it seemed the nastier she became, the more determined Chip became to be a good neighbor. As he went out into the kitchen, Lee saw that the rain was back and pouring harder than ever. As Chip went out the door, a cry of joy went up in the living room. Grabbing a bottle of soda, Lee hurried to find the capricious power had returned, and the game was back on. "Captain! We're ahead 28-24 with five minutes left in the third quarter!" crowed Sparks.

Lee sat down and immediately became engrossed in the game. The Army team was making a determined march up the field, but every inch was hotly contested by the Navy defenders. For Lee, the emotions were as strong now as they were when he was a nineteen year old, rising and falling with fortunes of the team on the field.

As the teams switched sides for the fourth quarter, the Admiral said quietly, 'Uh, Lee? Did you kill Chip?"

"No, Sir, I didn't. He apparently chose to punish himself . . . He went over to check on Mrs. Hadley."

There was the sound of suddenly indrawn breath, as the other men turned and stared at the Captain. While only Lee had met the woman, Chip had regaled the wardroom with tales of the woman's evil temper and nasty ways. Doc slowly shook his head, "Driven mad. He was driven mad by the power failures."

Bob chuckled, and exchanged a glance with Sparks who grinned back. Then the game resumed, and everyone's attention was caught by the Navy's brave defense on their own five yard line. The Army drive was stopped and when they opted to try again on the fourth down instead of going for a field goal, all attention was riveted of the TV. Lee clamped down on his niggling fear of another power failure, and screamed as loud as anyone when the Navy defense stopped the Army dead in it's tracks and took over the ball on their own one yard line. The ensuing struggle to score flowed back and forth across the field. Finally late in the fourth quarter, the Navy quarterback, whose throwing arm was considered suspect, fell back to his own twenty and let sail with a perfect spiral that floated into the outstretched hands of the All American halfback sixty yards down the field who pranced his way across the goal line unmolested. The crowd in the stands went berserk, as did the officers of the Seaview. With the extra point safely made and less than two minutes on the clock, the rest of the game was anti-climatic. The Army's attempt to breakout was quickly squashed and the game ended with a score of Navy 35, Army 24.

Lee sagged back in his chair, as exhausted as if he had actually been in the game himself. Looking around the room, he saw he wasn't the only one. Everyone from Sparks to Admiral Nelson looked drained, but content. Only then did he realize that Chip had not yet returned from Mrs. Hadley's. "Uh, Chip's not back."

He got up and went to the window facing the neighbor's house. No signs of life. He became aware of Nelson, Doc, Sparks, and Bob lining up next to him all staring at the house next door. The heavy rain and general gloom gave the house a sinister aspect. In a small voice, Sparks asked, "What do you suppose she did to him?"

"She put him in a cage to fatten him up." responded Bob. "Either that, or she pushed him straight into the oven. "

The Admiral said, "Someone should go check on him."

"Sorry, Sir, I'm on cleanup duty."

"Uh, I have rheumatism. I can't go out in the rain."

"Bob, I'm your doctor. You do not have rheumatism."

"Well, why don't you go?"

"Um, can't. I failed geriatrics at school, I'm not allowed around old folks."

The argument became moot as Mrs. Hadley's front door opened, and Chip backed out followed by a tiny elderly woman waving a heavy wooden cane. Chip kept backing, then turned and ran for it. Lee hurried to open the door for his beleaguered friend. Chip almost made it. He slipped on the porch step and hurtled forward directly into Lee, knocking him down. They both skidded halfway across the kitchen floor. Before anyone could help them untangle, Chip hopped up, and reaching down pulled Lee to his feet. "Well, did we win?"

"Yes, 35 to 24. What took you so long?"

"Oh, she decided she wanted her Christmas ornaments down from the attic. Then she wanted them cleaned."

"Why was she chasing you?"

"She found a broken one. She thought I did it." Chip sighed. "Any corned beef left?" They turned toward the kitchen table to find Doc happily munching on a truly prodigious sandwich that contained at least a pound of corned beef. On the platter there was nothing left but scraps. Chip sighed, then started building a ham and cheese on rye that rivaled anything either Doc or Bob had constructed all afternoon. Sparks started giving him a hit by hit account of the second half. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent in the easy comradeship of long time friends. Chip refused all offers of help to clean up saying he had nothing better to do on Sunday. First Doc, then Bob and Sparks offered to include Chip in their Sunday plans, but he turned them down, saying he needed to rest up for the week ahead.

By nine, the party was winding down to the point that Doc was checking eyes and determining who was fit to drive. Bob, who preferred food to drink anyday was pronounced clear, and he and Sparks left taking the nearly empty keg, and several pounds of supposedly 'smuggled' food with them. The Admiral, on the other hand, had had several scotch and waters, and Doc had refused to return his keys, insisting that he himself would drive him home. Before Doc could check Lee however, Chip offered his Captain a bed for the night. Satisfied, Doc relinquished Lee's car keys to Chip. The Admiral was bundled off into Doc's car along with enough leftovers to keep each man happy for at least a couple of days. Chip and Lee stood in the doorway watching the departing car, then went in and slumped at opposite ends of the sofa.

The two men sat in identical poses, hands behind their heads, long legs stretched out in front of them. Lee finally broke the silence, "Good party, Chip."

"Yeah."

"How much?"

"How much what?"

"How much corned beef did you hide away?"

"Maybe four, five pounds."

"Did you save any of the Mexican dip?"

"Naw, but I have the ingredients for a whole new batch tomorrow."

"Well."

"Well."

"When will that cleaning lady be here?"

"0600. But she promised to keep it quiet."

"All right. I'm hitting the sack. What time are the girls coming tomorrow?"

"The Rams-Browns game starts at 1000, so they'll be here at 0930."

Lee stood up and with a mumbled 'g'nite', went to the guest room, removed the sweatshirt and jeans and fell into bed. His last thought as sleep overtook him was Christmas is coming, Chip. You'd better beware.



The End


Copyright 1999 by Middie Rosie

Please send comments to: rosiea@yahoo.com

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